Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Card 2011

When it came time to put together our Christmas card for this year, I had a bit of a difficult time with it. What really happened this year? What were our memorable moments, and did I have the good sense to document any of them?

Ty turned 30. I turned 30. We went to the beach. That's about it.

But there really were all these great, small moments in between. Individually, they don't seem significant. But combined together, we've had a wonderful first year of marriage. Joy rides in the Jeep (although I once loathed its very existence), lazy Saturdays swimming in the pool and grabbing steaks from Maxwells, teaming up for our slew of home improvement projects. All of it amounts to one memorable year together.

I thought this card summed that up the best.

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. I hope 2011 kept you laughing all the way!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

One Stomach Flu Away

Emily: Andrea, my God! You look so chic.

Andy Sachs: Oh, thanks. You look so thin.

Emily: Really? It's for Paris, I'm on this new diet. Well, I don't eat anything and when I feel like I'm about to faint I eat a cube of cheese. I'm just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.

This could be one of my favorite movies lines from "The Devin Wears Prada." Sometimes I think this diet plan could work for me. After all, I really love cheese. My problem is stopping after one cube!

It's all funny until you find yourself with a stomach virus and begging for your life to be spared. That's how my week started.

I kissed my niece on the cheek ...

She kissed me on the cheek ...

Less than 24 hours later, we were both yacking our guts up.

There were moments I thought I was going to die. Or at least have to go to the emergency room. Terrible horrible things have happened to me this week. Things you wouldn't want me to describe.

I've never seen a pharmacist scared, but when I walked in CVS to get my phenegran prescription filled, I swear I saw him shudder at the sight of me. And fyi, they really can fill your prescription instantly. You just have to look like you're going to have episode right there at the pharmacy counter.

Anyway, my niece and I are stomach flu survivors. And I'm down four pounds. How's that for looking at the glass half full?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pinterest Recipes

(I started writing this post more than a month ago ... finally getting around to posting it. Sheesh.)

My husband recently told someone that every dinner at our house was highly experimental. Experimental sounds bad to me. Experimental leaves things too open ended. Experiments can go wrong.

There are a few recipes that are in regular rotation around our house, but I do like to cook different things and try new recipes. I feel like I cook enough to discern whether or not I will like a recipe before I put in the effort to prepare it. Perhaps I have the gift of discernment because things typically turn out OK.

Pinterest has become a great resource for me. I can't resist beautiful food photography! It looks so good that I have to prepare it and taste it myself. So, here's a run down of my recent Pinterest successes ... and one flop. But one out of six ain't bad!

Angel Chicken

I would have seasoned this a little more, but this was delicious served over linguine. The recipe says to pour the mushrooms in the bottom of the crock pot and then top with chicken. Problem is, once you do that, the mushrooms adhere to the chicken like barnacles on a boat hull. Stir it all together and you'll have barnacle-free chicken.

Baked Spaghetti

We never make spaghetti at our house. Just not one of my favorites. But this baked spaghetti takes classic spaghetti to the next level. It's creamy and crunch and hearty, not runny like my spaghetti always turns out. So, so good, and it freezes well.

Lasagna Soup

I loved this recipe as well. It's very filling and has great Italian flavor. However, if you don't like fennel, I would avoid this soup. The Italian sausage has a lot of fennel flavor. Also, I would sub the broken lasagna noodles for a simple spiral noodle, just for attractiveness.

Pesto, Plum Tomato and Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

This is one good sammy. The rich, stringy mozzarella is amazing paired with the nutty pesto and fresh tomato. As a card-carrying cheese lover, I could only eat half of my sandwich because it was so rich and filling.

Southwest Chicken Corn Chowder

I saw this photo and wanted to make it immediately. But somewhere my chowder went terribly wrong. It was water and bland and therefore sat on the stove untouched for two days until it became putrid. Skip this one.

Tuscan Pasta

I'm not typically a fan of jarred alfredo sauce. It always tastes a little off. But this jarred sauce is wonderful when you jazz it up a little bit. This was an easy meal after getting home late from working out. You literally throw it together.

White Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas

It's rare that I meet an enchilada I don't love. These are spectacular. Ty ate on them for a few days until he'd polished off the dish. That's saying something since leftovers often go untouched around our house. We'll be making these again, soon.

Now, hopefully, I can start blogging as much as I cook.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Memories Taste Like Turkey

As I mentioned earlier this week, Ty and I recently traveled to Arkansas to see our good friends Tuck and Megan. We love our Arkansas friends. A four-hour drive north and it feels like I've been dropped in a strange land with a different language and customs.

A few weeks later, we were watching "Country Strong" for the first time and simultaneously agreed that these two characters are spot-on Tuck and Megan.

He's rough and tumble. She's a Country Barbie. Ty and I exist somewhere in the middle. But it's fun to go up there, drive old trucks, drink beer, eat cornbread, sit on a front porch swing, play guitar and act like we belong.

Well, it's probably not much of an act. Fifty percent of both mine and Ty's genealogy comes from Arkansas. His mom's from Magnolia. My mom's from Camden. Maybe we're country strong after all!

When we make our trips to Arkansas, I only have one request. A stop at Burge's. We would always stop here on our way to my grandparents' house, and I've yet to find a turkey sandwich that can come close to this one. Since it's asinine to drive over an hour for a turkey sandwich, I strictly enforce a stop when we get to Lewisville. Hungry or not.

It's not much, but I love that this place hasn't changed since I was a kid. There's something comforting about going to a place that you've always loved and it's exactly the same as it was years ago.

The menu has grown and changed and there are lots and lots of delicious homemade options. But I don't even need to look at this board. I know my order before the car pulls out of Shreveport.

Here it is. Absolute heaven. It's simple, with just turkey, lettuce and mayo between warm, buttery sliced white bread. I add pickles. Trust me and add pickles if you like pickles. 

Ty ordered the BBQ sandwich, which I asked him to show me while he was driving.

Then I asked him to try to hold it still. I'm sure he finds me very charming in these moments. We ate our sandwiches, chased them with homemade fried pies (Ty did apple, I did cherry), and kept trucking our way northward to the tiny village of Guy.

Burge's, we hated to eat and run. Maybe I'll make a return visit soon. Humm ... exactly how crazy is it to drive over an hour for a turkey sandwich?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Don't Count Me Out

I've heard numerous times over the past month that people are wondering what happened to me and why I haven't been blogging. Well, don't check the obits just yet. I'm happy to report that I am alive and well and clawing my way out of this dark abyss called Launching a Company Web Site.

In addition to the Web site launch, I've been out of town to a few trade shows and sick for about two weeks.

Are you tired of hearing my excuses yet?

I have proof.

This is my old company Web site. If you have eyes, you can see it's a little skunky and dried up.

This is my new company Web site. I think it's sexy. ... well, as sexy as a Web site can be. It was a lot of hard work and I'm glad she's up and running.

So, where do we go from here? You've heard my excuses. You've seen the fruits of my labor. I guess the logical next step would be to share some blurry cell phone pictures recapping my life over the past month.

Starting with the barn party Ty and I attended in Guy, Arkansas, a few weeks back. Let's run down the list of eventful things that happened.

1. I met a one year old wearing Usher cologne.
2. I saw a guy try to jump over a bonfire and land in the middle of it.
3. I ate the best cornbread of my life. 

Ty and Tuck (the reason we went to Arkansas) playing guitar and singing at the barn party. I would do this every weekend if I had a barn. 

This is Tootsie Roll. You've not lived until you've watched a sunset on a porch swing with a beagle. Just the facts of life.

This is a good depiction of the laziness that takes place around my house on a daily basis. I was home sick last week, and very slyly captured this picture of our dogs. They're worthless until the mailman comes by each day.

This was mine and Ty's third year to go to Brew, an annual beer festival in downtown Shreveport. But we've never had the pleasure of having so many friends there, too. It was such a fun group and a great day/night on the town with our close friends.

My dining chair slip covers finally arrived! They're a little wrinkled in this picture, but you get the effect. Once I get curtains made, a rug purchased and pictures hung, I can check this room off my list. It's hard to believe that in March, we were doing this. And why is there always a lazy dog in my pictures?

That's all I've got for now. I promise to have more updates, more frequently!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Artichoke Crusted Chicken

{Photo courtesy of Sugarlaws}

It was raining when I got home from work yesterday, so instead of going for the three mile walk/run (yes, I'm trying to run now), I decided to crash on the couch and rest. Us Southern women don't nap. We rest.

Before I knew it, it was 7. I was groggy and in no mood to cook dinner, so I began negotiating with my husband. "If we go out tonight, I'll cook tomorrow night."

Very casually, he says, "I think we should just cook."

This was a very dangerous thing to say, and he knew it, so he followed up by saying, "But it's up to you. I feel like I'm telling you to get into the kitchen and make my dinner."

The freedom of choice with a side of guilt. Nice strategy.

I grumbled my way through dinner prep. Quartering potatoes, flattening chicken (which I really enjoyed), grating cheese. We were trying another Pinterest recipe, Artichoke Crusted Chicken, and my mood suddenly shifted when I saw my artichoke mixture bubbling and browning underneath the broiler.

O .....

M .....

G .....

I would have eaten seconds if there were any seconds to be had. I've posted some good chicken recipes in the past, but this tops them all. I love going out to dinner. So, to find a chicken recipe that makes you glad you stayed in is miraculous!

The chicken is tender and juicy and the artichoke mixture is creamy and soft and tangy. I think the first bite made me curse it was so good!

Try it out for yourselves!

Artichoke Crusted Chicken

2 six-ounce chicken breasts, pounded thin

2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (I used canned artichoke hearts)
1/3 cup grated white cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper the chicken and then sauté each chicken breast in 1 tbsp olive oil on medium-high heat, for about 8-10 minutes, flipping once. Set aside.
  • Mix together the mayonnaise, artichoke hearts and cheddar cheese until evenly distributed. Spread the mixture over the sauteed chicken breasts, and then broil at 400 degrees for about 3 minutes. Do not take your eyes off them — broiling can lead to burning faster than you can imagine. When the cheese is melted and bubbling and the tops are golden, remove and serve.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What's Brewing at Our House

My husband and LJ's husband, Marcus, recently decided to get into beer brewing. They've researched and watched videos and ordered kits and watched yeast rise. Meanwhile, LJ and I mock them mercilessly because we are amazing wives like that.

Monday night, once the yeast packet had risen, it was time to make beer. It would have been preferable for this event to take place on a Friday or Saturday night when I am more prone to keep my eyes open past 9:30 p.m. But the yeast wasn't ready. And the yeast is very important. So we waited on the yeast. And because of the yeast we were up past 11 p.m.

For their first brew, Ty and Marcus picked Oktoberfest. I guess brewing a seasonal beer is how boys get excited about fall. I buy cardigans and tights and boots. Potato, patato.

I'm going to give this info to you in girl terms because I don't really know what all goes into the beer making  or the tools of the trade. There is this giant tea bag that you steep. Then you mix it with some hops and this gel-like stuff that resembles what vampires turn into when they meet the true death on "True Blood." You boil a little while, then cool, then pour into a canister and store in a cold, dark place (my guest bath), and in two months, you have beer.

There is lots of wearing oven mitts and strategizing and timing stuff.

And stirring while wearing oven mitts and drinking beer, which is ironic since you can drive down the street and get some of that in less than two months.

And wafting the aroma into your nostrils. It does not smell good, FYI.

A glimpse inside our pot of beer.

And transferring the big pot of beer to a sink full of ice to cool down the beer quickly. Ty says, "watch out!"

Adding ice to the sink to cool the beer.

Baxter says, "Move over boys, this is a man's job."

And after some more shaking and cooling and other stuff I didn't document because I was watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, we have five gallons of our unfermented concoction. I'll let you know in a couple of months how things tasted!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells

Stuffed pasta shells are a regular favorite in our household. When I can't figure out what I want to cook, these are always a good bet because I know my husband loves them. My recipe comes from my sis-in-law's artillery and is very good. It combines ground beef (or turkey), Velveeta, cream of mushroom, Parmesan for a delicious filling.

With our love of stuffed shells, I was practically drooling when I found this recipe on Pinterest. My bestie, LJ, says the large shells look bizarre and freak her out. Isn't that interesting? I think I'll make these the next time she comes over. JK, LOL, XOXO! 

In the future when I make these, however, I will adapt between my recipe and the Pinterest recipe. The stuffing is perfection, but without any type of sauce, the shells get very chewy and difficult to cut when you serve them. And even if you like shells, I guarantee you won't like chewy shells.

Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells

12-16 jumbo pasta shells
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
3 tablespoons prepared pesto (homemade or store bought)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken (I used a store-bought rotisserie chicken)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jar spaghetti sauce
salt and pepper to taste
  • In a large pot over high heat, boil water and prepare pasta shells as directed on package. Cook pasta shells until al dente. The pasta will finish cooking when the dish is baked. Drain the pasta shells and set aside.
  • Coat the bottom of the baking dish in a thin layer of spaghetti sauce and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except the 1/4 cup of cheese for the topping. Fill the pasta shells with the filling and place in a baking dish. Cover with as much spaghetti sauce as you like and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over filled shells.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake shells uncovered for 30 minutes or until shells are bubbling hot and cheese melts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Real Food Done Real Good - Part 2

Now, where did we leave off? Oh yes, the wind in my hair. The Bloody Mary in my cup holder. On perhaps the nicest day ever recorded in the Farmer's Almanac for New Orleans.

So somewhere in between my pre-ride mojito, my Abita Amber and my Bloody Mary, I thought it would be a great idea to ask my tour guide to take me by Brad and Angelina's house. He didn't know where it was specifically, but he knew which block it was on, so he took us down that street, which was good enough for me. Did I see Brangelina's house? Probably. Do I know that for sure? No. Am I going to tell people I saw Brad Pitt on a balcony in nothing but a towel? Absolutely. 

After our delicious Bloody Mary and some "No Penetration, Just Conversation," it was time for our next food stop. Our guide took us to Bennachin, which is this blink-and-you-miss-it spot serving African food in the French Quarter.

Ty and I shared this delicious plate of fried plantains. They're sweet and caramelized on the outside, and surprisingly, they go very well with the marinara sauce. These are often compared to bananas, but are more starchy and less sweet. Very different and yummy!

This was probably our shortest stop on the trip. I hate to eat plantains and run, but I was excited to see where the bike ride would take us for our final stop -- a guaranteed "special treat" by our guide.

We cruised along until we hit Canal Street. This was the craziest part of our biking experience. Lots of traffic, including people, cars, horse-drawn carriages and horse-drawn carriage "left behinds" that you definitely don't want slinging on you off your front wheel. But it wasn't a scary experience (other than those "left behinds"). We finally pulled up to our last stop, Palace Cafe.

It's such a charming restaurant with a comfortable French style. Ty and I decided we would enjoy one of their special treats, Peter's Planter Punch, which placed in the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail National Drink Contest.

I believe this was about the time I started bragging to my husband about how well I had done taking pictures and that I had remembered to get each building and each plate of food to be able to share our tour with you all.

Then I looked down at my plate and saw this.

I guess I spoke too soon. And I was so close! Fortunately, I found this picture on the web.

The crabmeat cheesecake is one of Palace Cafe's signature dishes. Imagine a savory cheesecake. It's baked in a pecan crust with a wild mushroom sauté and Creole meunière sauce. It's dense and fluffy at the same time. I really can't explain this thing, other than to say it's delicious. 

By this point, we'd spent almost five hours riding around the city. It was so much fun and definitely not lacking in character. Here are some other signs we saw cruising around town.

The Facts, according to New Orleans. I consider these all worthy rules to live by.

So many homes in New Orleans still bear their markings from Katrina. The top of the X is the date the home was searched; the left lists the inspector; the right notes any hazards, such as gas leaks or infestations; and the bottom number is the death count for that home. Such a sad reminder that is still on the majority of homes.

And finally, there was this sign. It once caught the attention of Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern, and it's not hard to understand why. I'm a Louisiana native and many of these "wildlife specials" scare me.

FYI, they leave the fur on the racoon's feet so you know they're not trying to sneak you a rat instead. That's the kind of valuable knowledge you can get only on a culinary bike tour. Not that I would eat rat or raccoon!

Bon Appetite!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Real Food Done Real Good - Part 1

I don't even want to tell you the process I have been through to share these pictures with you, but take my word for it when I say it has been a digital, virtual, absolute nightmare! The good news is, I get to share them with you now.

Our Culinary Bike Tour with the Confederacy of Cruisers in New Orleans was one of my favorite experiences of the year. If I can't spend my anniversary on the beaches of Cabo, drinking heavenly pina coladas and eating an embarrassing amount of refried beans, then I want to spend it doing this.

I haven't been on a bike since I was probably a kid, so this definitely brought out a very childlike, adventurous side of me. I was so into it, I think I'm asking for a cruiser bike for Christmas. We spent five hours cruising around different parts of New Orleans and eating at places I wouldn't have the gumption to find or visit on my own. Nevermind that all of the food is amazing, the entire experience is about as much fun as you can possibly have eating!

Our first stop on the tour was Elizabeth's, where we feasted on the fried boudin balls in creole mustard sauce and praline bacon. This was one of two restaurants we stopped at that has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

The fried boudin balls in creole mustard sauce were Ty's favorite of the day. They were crispy on the outside and warm, spicy and gooey on the inside. And the creole mustard sauce is good enough to spoon directly into your mouth. It's the consistency of white gravy with a tangy brown mustard flavor.

My favorite dish of the day was also from Elizabeth's. As if bacon weren't good enough on its own, the praline bacon takes it to a new level. It's got that salt/sweet combination and the praline sauce is caramelized and slightly crispy ... I die!

We biked a little more and eventually found ourselves at The Joint, another Diner's, Drive-ins and Dives spot. This is the sort of place you drive by, thinking they probably have really good food, and never actually try it.

They served us ribs, sausage and mac 'n cheese and we paired it -- to perfection -- with Abita Amber. I was a little disappointed when we pulled into a rib place, since I officially swore off ribs about two years ago. But these ribs were smokey and tender and flavorful. Good enough to change my mind.

I get kudos every now and then for my mac 'n cheese, but this dish is a divine thing!

The place was overflowing with character. I had to clean my hands to snap a picture of this sign. It made me think of our friend and die hard Saints fan, Clint Gulett. If only they sold T-shirts! Little did we know, there was more interesting signage ahead!

After all that eating, it was time for a cocktail, and Marie's serves the best Bloody Marys around. The place was a total dive. Slightly scary, but the kind of place I like. Ty said he wished we had a place like this in our neighborhood. I wouldn't go that far with it.

But this Bloody Mary is legit. I love a Bloody Mary with lots of pickled veggies in it. Olives, green beans, whatever. At that point does it become more of a snack?

Another interesting sign we stumbled upon along the way. I like it when people establish strict parameters for relationships right off the bat. Before we left, Ty and I spoke with one of the locals. We loved his stories until he told us the government blew up the levees with dynamite during Katrina. And ... time to move on!

More food and signage to come next time ...